Brazilian security forces have occupied 13 communities in two Rio de Janeiro favelas, the latest operation in its program to “pacify” gang-controlled parts of the city.
Around 1,600 troops accompanied by armored vehicles, helicopters and bulldozers moved into Complexo do Caju and Barreira do Vasco in the north of the city on February 3. Aside from concrete blocks impeding entry into the favelas, thought to have been placed there by criminal groups, the troops encountered no resistance, and the occupation was completed successfully in 25 minutes without a single shot, reported local media.
Website Infosurhoy, which accompanied the military operation, described the technology used during the operation, with cameras inside the favelas transmitting a live video stream of the occupation to a central Command and Control Center.
Extensive intelligence work prior to the occupation ensured its success, Colonel Alberto Pinheiro Neto, military police chief of operations, told the site. In just over two weeks, security forces arrested 320 people, seized 112 weapons, along with hundreds of stolen motorcycles, and large quantities of cocaine and marijuana. Since mid-February troops have also been monitoring 20 nearby communities thought to be possible escape routes or hiding spots for drugs and weapons.
More than 25 tons of trash was removed from the communities during the operation. The military will stay in the favelas until the installation of a Police Pacification Unit (UPP).
InSight Crime Analysis
The fact that the operation was carried out without violence is testament to the extensive preparation carried out by the Brazilian security forces prior to the occupation. The authorities have adopted the tactic of announcing favela invasions ahead of time, and carrying out arrest sweeps and seizures in the run-up. This gives criminals the chance to leave the neighborhood and set up operations elsewhere, but has the advantage of avoiding violent clashes during the takeover.
Once a neighborhood is considered to be under control — which can take more than a year — the military withdraws and a UPP, specially trained in community policing, is installed with the aim of maintaining a permanent state presence.
As of January 2013, 30 UPPs had been established in different Rio de Janeiro favelas, with a goal of 40 by the end of the year. The program is generally considered to be a success, with the first detailed study of the scheme showing a significant reduction in violent crime in communities with UPPs.
However there are valid concerns that the pacification program simply shifts crime elsewhere, even exacerbating violence by forcing criminal organizations into smaller spaces, sparking turf wars. The situation can remain insecure in “pacified” favelas and there are complaints about a lack of social investment in the communities. As the program moves into its fifth year, there are also reports that police presence is weakening and that gangs are moving back into the favelas.